Alison Maclean's sinister, compelling "Crush" (at the Nuart) begins so swiftly that it's important to pay close and immediate attention to its stunning opening sequence. It suffices to say here that sequence ends in a car accident, with one woman, Christina (Donogh Rees), nearly killed and the other, Lane (Marcia Gay Harden), walking away with only a scratch on her forehead. "Crush" has so much wit and panache it's important not to give too much away. In any event, it proceeds with such persuasive psychological validity that its every moment rings true.
This taut, sly fable of innocence and corruption takes place in rural New Zealand, where Lane, an American, is visiting Christina, a literary critic and once Christina's classmate. While Christina winds up in the hospital Lane zeros in on Christina's friend, Colin (William Zappa), a struggling novelist, and his motherless 15-year-old daughter Angela (Caitlin Bossley). Blatantly sexy and seductive, Lane first befriends and beguiles Angela, rapidly transforming her from an androgynous tomboy to a pretty young woman; just as rapidly, however, Lane drops Angela to seduce her lonely father, who quickly develops an all-consuming passion for her.
Lane is big-time bad news, clearly a sociopath who gets her kicks from manipulating others, but she doesn't reckon with the depth of Angela's growing rage toward her. She may in fact also be incapable of considering that Angela may proceed upon a course of action with consequences beyond the teen-ager's comprehension.
We may find Lane entirely loathsome, yet her seductive impact on others is all too credible. In her writing (with Anne Kennedy) and in her direction, Maclean takes chances and inspires her actors to go the distance with her. Harden has appeared impressively in "Miller's Crossing" (as a gangster's girl) and "Used People" (as Shirley MacLaine's troubled daughter, who assumed identities of everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Mrs. Robinson), and here she makes Lane captivating and repellent.
In a sense Angela is the film's true central character, and therefore the film itself can be taken as a notably bizarre and drastic coming-of-age story. As Angela, Bossley projects such a youthful naivete, such a justifiable sense of outrage, that she never loses sympathy no matter how vengeful she becomes. Zappa, trim of body but ravaged-looking in his craggy visage, exudes a moody, wounded quality of intellectual macho. Rees is simply amazing as a severely injured woman gradually awakening in mind, body and spirit to a dangerously complete comprehension of the full circumstances surrounding the near-fatal car crash.
"Crush," whose title can refer to Angela's initial feelings for Lane as well as Christina's fate in the accident, is highly sensual. "Crush" (Times-rated Mature for language and considerable sex) is a highly assured and sophisticated venture.
Marcia Gay Harden: Lane
Donogh Rees: Christina
Caitlin Bossley: Angela
William Zappa: Colin
A Strand release of a Hibiscus Films Ltd. production. Director Alison Maclean. Producer Bridget Ikin. Screenplay Maclean, Anne Kennedy. Cinematographer Dion Beebe. Editor John Gilbert. Costumes Ngila Dickson. Music JPS Experience & Antony Partos. Production design Meryl Cronin. Art directors Brett Schweiters, David Turner. Sound Michael Hedges. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Times-rated Mature (for language and considerable sex).